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Opinion • March 28 2004

Are we ready for Eddie?

Harry Vassallo explains why Eddie Fenech Adami would make a competent President and why he should not be anointed in that post

The debate about who should be President has become a debate as to whether Dr Fenech Adami should be president or not. There are no known alternative nominees.
It has become a non-debate also with those critical of the ex-PM’s nomination half-assuming that the decision has already been taken against them. The debate will only make Dr Fenech Adami’s presidency a little weaker.
Were there similar public debates prior to previous presidential appointments? I have the impression that it has always been a decision for the ruling party. The opposition was often critical but this was expected and ignored. The people have no say at all.
We are used to waking up one morning to find that we have a new president. It never means much to any of us. This time we are aware of the identity of the principal nominee. The three nominees of the Opposition remain unknown.
What is significantly different is that there has been a debate. More than that, there has been criticism of Dr Fenech Adami’s nomination within his own party. Pierre Portelli’s concern has been that Dr Fenech Adami’s stature would overshadow that of the PN’s new Prime Minister. The PN would have a harder time to build up Dr Gonzi’s icon status in time for the next general elections.
Austin Bencini missed the point altogether by pointing out Dr Fenech Adami’s competence and political acumen. Constitutional precedent permits the appointment of a former Prime Minister to the post of President. The question is whether it is a good idea, not whether it can be done.
Pierre Portelli questions whether it is a good idea for the PN. That too should be beside the point. Is it a good thing for the country, is what we should be asking. Can Dr Fenech Adami fulfil the tasks of a President whose tenure will span a period of economic and social challenges unseen for the past two decades at least? Can he provide the political cohesion we all feel that we need to face in the time ahead?
It is not enough to say that we have had Presidents whose term in office spanned an alternation in government. So what if we have had presidents who have behaved competently and correctly in relation to a government of a party which was not their own? We do not need another neutralised president. We do not need a president whose greatest possible achievement would be sterility.
The country hopes for a President that can be an inspiration to national ownership of the country’s institutions and will not be satisfied with a President that can be safely ignored. The award of the Presidency as a retirement gift to a Nationalist icon is not what the country needs at this time.
I have no doubt that Dr Fenech Adami will make a very correct President. I have every reason to believe that the Presidency will make him free to be fair beyond expectations. I strongly suspect that he can surprise both his supporters and his critics within the PN.
He will never be able to persuade his opponents. The hurts of history, real or imagined will weigh against him. Twenty-three years of political controversy cannot be buried in an instant. The one thing that Dr Fenech Adami as President, cannot do is to give the Maltese a national common ground, ownership of the state.
Our economic challenge is the result of Dr Fenech Adami’s reign. As more comes to light in the coming months, nobody can expect critics to remain silent simply because the protagonist has become President. It will take much more than an investiture ceremony to place Dr Fenech Adami above the fray. The Presidency may no longer remain immune.
Apart from his political baggage, Dr Fenech Adami has his own personal ideological baggage, a strain of conservatism which has detached our political and legislative reality from social reality. In many ways Dr Fenech Adami has delayed a future he does not like.
In seeking the Presidency he takes on the role of a Mintoff, unable to accept that the country has moved on and will continue to move forward. It is very natural that figures of such stature attempt to preserve their political legacy. It is bad news for everybody when they make the attempt. There is a time to let go, to let the future happen.

Dr Vassallo is Chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party



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